Although these days the popular duo is almost always headlining, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis appeared as the “surprise guests” at One Vibe Africa’s Madaraka Festival last night at the EMP. The fest, which brought together a diverse group of attendees in celebration of Madaraka Day, the Kenyan day of independence, was a fund raiser for a community arts program in Kisumu, Kenya and sold out before the concert began.
Various hints online suggested Mack would perform as the evening’s special guest, and that must have been a draw for some, but his presence was rooted in the incredible philanthropic cause that One Vibe is all about. Its mantra “We Inspire and Empower Youth” was the event’s strong focus, and art for sale from students and instructors in Kisumu along with a variety of rich musical talent (and spoken word along with some dance) encapsulated the festival.
Owuor Arunga, notably known as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s trumpet player, stole the show as he exercised his expert musicality while simultaneously playing with and leading the house horn section. Despite his connection to Macklemore, Arunga didn’t give any hints about the surprise guest. The event’s two other MCs, Thig Nat and Monk Wordsmith of Seattle rap group the Physics, kept the energy levels high.
After much criticism for what was perceived as a Jewish-inspired persona during a performance at the same venue just a few weeks ago, anticipation was high as the audience waited to catch the first glimpse of Mack. But the artist arrived onstage around 10:30 p.m. in a pretty basic outfit—a blue collared shirt, gold chain, big rings, and that blonde hair—nothing flashy or obviously from a second-hand store. It was a good idea, one that kept things focused not on his appearance, but in the spirit of the event.
When Macklemore bounded up the steps, the volume in the room skyrocketed. At one point, he attempted to plunge into the crowd but landed in a swarm of not-so-sturdy middle school kids that ironically, “couldn’t hold him.” But nothing could lower the energy in the room, especially as he performed his three hits, beginning with “Make the Money,” then igniting a dance party in the room with “Thrift Shop,” and ending strong with “Can’t Hold Us.”